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Dance Both Roles

May 8th, 2012
contra  [html]

In the comments of Sunday's post on contra dance booking it came up that a major reason people book is because they're afraid they won't have a partner otherwise. One dancer described his experience trying not to book and finding himself sitting out a lot. He decided he needed to go back to booking. This didn't happen because he's a bad dancer, it happened because at this particular dance there happened to be many more men than women. [1]

If people are only willing to dance with people of the opposite gender, then any time there are extra people of one gender there will be a lot of people without partners. By booking you can increase the odds that you are one of the dancers that does manage to get a partner, but even more than usual it comes at a social cost.

While people have tried to solve this problem by altering the gender balance [2] I think the best solution is for people to become more comfortable dancing with same gender partners. Then it doesn't matter how imbalanced the hall may be; people can still dance and have a good time.

You can wait to try dancing the opposite role until you find yourself sitting out with a bunch of people of the same gender, but why not start sooner? As you get good at and learn to enjoy the other role it will improve your dancing in your primary role too. You'll be able to enjoy dancing with same-gendered friends. You'll better be able to recover from mistakes that leave you gender-swapped. If you only ever dance one role you miss out on half [3] the fun of the dance!

At this point I enjoy both roles enough and have enough people I want to dance with of all genders that I dance the opposite role about a third of the time even when there's no gender imbalance.


[1] If you primarily do other forms of social dance you might find this surprising: more men? In our culture women tend to be more willing to dance, but this doesn't seem to apply to contra. I don't know why. Maybe that it's less demanding of the person dancing the lead role? But this doesn't explain English Country Dance, which is even less lead/follow but tends to have more women. I have the impression that contra dances with extra men are more common than extra women, but this may just be because women are more willing to dance with each other and so at dances with extra women I don't notice.

[2] The extreme of this is gender balancing at dance weekends and festivals. When you sign up you indicate your gender and they try to admit the same number of men and women. While some of the people in the limited gender really don't like this it persists because more of them do. The usual justification is that if you get to a dance and find it frustratingly imbalanced you can leave, but if you're there for a whole weekend you'd rather either know you'll have an ok time finding partners or not go at all. A less extreme version is just encouraging more of the less numerous gender to attend, but that seems tricky.

[3] Well, less than half. Some. But half fits well here.

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